When people hear the word “depression”, the person they imagine isn’t someone who is highly successful in their job or the life and soul of the party. The stereotypical image most of us will draw is that of someone closed off from loved ones, unable to get out of bed and isolated and alone.
While this is true in many cases, high-functioning depression can happen to anyone, and more than likely both those shut off from the world and those appearing to thrive in it could be struggling.
The college-educated, successful business woman, who is always out with friends and somehow manages to volunteer and play on a string of teams might just be having a hard time too. Just because she’s performing at a high level, doesn’t mean she doesn’t wake up in the morning with crippling anxiety or the fear of what will happen if she can’t “hold it together.”
Or the always smiling friend, who always offers advice or a shoulder to cry on and seems so happy could be masking feelings of self-loathing, or the fear they’re wasting their life.
What is high-functioning depression?
Clinically referred to as dysthymia, high-functioning depression is a mental health disorder characterized by several factors. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) it can manifest itself in several ways including poor appetite or overeating, insomnia, low energy, low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness.
It can be distinguished from major depressive disorder as it may not have the same levels of impaired mental functioning, that makes it easier to spot. They may still be able to keep up with their demanding job, enjoy regular social events with friends and keep a handle of all the “adulting” stuff in their lives.
How To Recognize It
The problem is high-functioning depression doesn’t follow the stereotype, and so it can be almost impossible to spot in friends, family and especially yourself. People dismiss these feelings as a “bad day” or accept it as normal. But, it’s not normal to be always struggling with feelings of self-doubt or that you’re not “good enough.”
Some signs could indicate someone is struggling with depression and may need help, or you may recognize them in yourself.
1. Struggling To Find Joy
One symptom of high-functioning depression is that the things you used to enjoy don’t bring you the same kind of pleasure. Commitments or hobbies can even turn into a burden as they become more of an effort than a source of enjoyment.
2. Criticism Both Self and Of Others
You have become critical to a worrying degree, unable to stop picking up faults of yourself, friends, colleagues and even strangers. No-one can do any right whether it’s your annoying partner, your superficial friends or your lazy work colleague. The negative commentary follows you through your daily life, and it’s exhausting.
3. Plagued by Self-Doubt
You question whether you’re in the right career if your partner is the right person for you and doubt what you’re doing in life. You feel like a fraud, who can’t function in the adult world and fear one day someone is going to find out. This self-doubt isn’t a passing worry; it’s a constant niggling at you throughout the day.
4. You’re Exhausted
Emotionally, physically and mentally you’re spent even before you get up in the morning. You have the feeling like you’re carrying around the weight of the world on your back and there’s little relief until you climb into bed at the end of the day, just to wake up feeling even more tired. It’s not just a case of being worn out after a week at work, your energy levels no matter what you’ve done are low and don’t show any signs of bouncing back even with some rest.
Do you blow up over the smallest thing, or are quick to get worked up at a partner or co-worker. If you find yourself being the source of the unnecessary angry outburst, then you could be dealing with high-functioning depression.
6. You’re Sweating The Small Stuff
Things that didn’t feel so important in the past, suddenly become too much to handle. Not being able to find your keys in your handbag, a grocery bag breaking or even missing your train can become a massive event that you struggle to cope with. Small things that would have mildly irritated you before are now hard to deal with. If you’re struggling to cope with even the smallest of stressful situations, you may well be dealing with high-functioning depression.
7. Fixating on the Past and Future Decisions
When you’re dealing with depression, you always question and doubt decision you have made in your past and those you will have to make. Did you choose the right degree? The good career? Even the home you’re living with can become a source of worry. Fears over your future like finding a partner, paying off debts and loans may also be given too much priority in your mind.
8. Turning to Coping Strategies
If you’re becoming too reliant on coping mechanisms, then you could have a problem. Netflix and chill might seem innocent enough, but if you’re doing it every night as a means to escape your life, then it could be a sign you’re dealing with some bigger issues. The same goes for reliance on video games, alcohol, drugs, and even exercise.
9. Sadness and Hopelessness
We all have our down moments, but if there’s a sense of sadness always haunting your life that you can’t escape from then, there could be a more serious problem at hand. An over-riding sense of hopelessness could be a big sign things aren’t right.
10. Striving for Perfection
While most people admit perfection isn’t possible, most people strive to achieve an ideal they have set out in their mind. While there’s nothing wrong with having goals, it’s the self-loathing and psychological effect of not being able to attain these targets that make it dangerous. Landing that fantastic job, buying that apartment or even just keeping up with the latest fashion trends can be exhausting. When you don’t achieve them, you can be thrown into a spiral of self-doubt and self-hatred.
11. Unable to Rest
Despite being exhausted, when you get home from work or the gym you’re tidying, organizing or sorting things out, basically anything other than taking a rest.
Many of those dealing with high-functioning depression will be unable to slow down because they fear the thoughts that will creep into their heads when they stop for a moment and so instead attempt to keep themselves busy.
Like all mental health disorders, high-functioning depressions carries with its own set of risks and to understand it; it’s important to separate it from the usual stereotype of depression.
As those suffering with it are usually high-functioning people, it can not only be harder to diagnose but for the individual to seek treatment. Even if they recognize there is something wrong they may believe they can deal with it themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s not a case of effort or willpower. High-functioning depression is a psychological disorder that needs to be treated with adequate and clinical treatment.
Attempts to deal with it alone could even worsen the symptoms and could develop into a major depression or lead to substance abuse issues.
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